Dane Smith knew Tennessee-Martin would be underdogs against the No. 24 Mississippi State. He's just disappointed the Skyhawks made things so easy for the Bulldogs during the second half.
Tennessee-Martin kept the game close early, but Mississippi State used torrid shooting after halftime to pull away for a 76-50 victory on Friday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
Smith led Tennessee-Martin (1-5) with 17 points and Myles Taylor added 12. The Skyhawks had 16 turnovers.
Mississippi State led just 35-24 at halftime, but shot 68 percent after the break to push its lead to as many as 30 during the second half.
''It wasn't anything they did - it was us,'' Smith said. ''We didn't contain the ball and guys were able to get in the lane. They were kicking out to open shooters and that was the ballgame.''
Mississippi State never trailed, receiving contributions from all over its roster. Dee Bost and Rodney Hood led the team with 17 points each, but DeVille Smith scored a career-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, while Wendell Lewis had his first career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said both Lewis and Smith would be important to any future success this season - singling out Lewis' play as particularly vital.
''It doesn't matter if he starts or not, he's going to play a lot of minutes,'' Stansbury said. ''And his productivity in those minutes is going to be the difference in us winning or losing a lot of basketball games.''
Mississippi State (6-1) played without starting forwards Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie for the second straight game. A team spokesman says Sidney has a sprained left hand, while Moultrie is battling tendinitis in both knees.
The Bulldogs shot 59.3 percent (32 of 54) from the field for the game and outrebounded Tennessee-Martin 37-31.
''We've had to play a lot of different lineups the past few games and I think that's really going to help us down the line,'' Stansbury said. ''We were really efficient offensively in the second half, shooting 68, 69 percent, and we didn't turn it over. For the most part, we played hard.''
Bost and Hood have been productive all season, but the contribution from Smith and Lewis bodes well as conference play gets closer.
Sidney and Moultrie combine to average about 23 points and 15 rebounds, and Lewis helped make up for their absence. The 6-foot-9 junior from Selma, Ala., came into the game averaging 4.5 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Stansbury has been impressed with Lewis' ability since he arrived on campus over two years ago, but occasionally exasperated by his laid-back demeanor. Though he's still not exactly an enforcer, Lewis has grown more assertive in the paint, and is one of the team's most important backups when the roster is at full strength.
''I try not to put too much pressure on myself,'' Lewis said. ''I try to have fun and do whatever the team needs for us to win. ... I've had a mindset when I get into games that I'm trying to score. Going hard.''
Smith missed the first game of the season because of unexplained headaches and dizziness, but after his health was cleared, he's slowly become a more important part of the Bulldogs' roster. The 5-foot-11 point guard also added three assists and two steals in 26 minutes.
Smith's best quality is a devastating first step off the dribble, but Stansbury said it can get him in trouble.
''He's pretty hard to guard on that first ball screen sometimes,'' Stansbury said. ''That's good and bad because he thinks he can do it every time. But he's getting better. He's not forcing things as much.''
Mississippi State has been rolling since a surprising 68-58 home loss to Akron in the second game of the season. Wins over Arizona and Texas A&M in the 2K Classic last week propelled the Bulldogs into the national rankings, and the team still has four games remaining in a six-game homestand that continues Sunday against North Texas.
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